By Erich Wagner (Courtesy photo)
For local resident Alston Waller, the long road to becoming the branch director at the Alexandria location of the Boys and Girls Club began when he was 5 years old.
“I grew up on the 500 block of N. Fayette St., one block away from the club,” he said. “I got introduced to the club through my cousin. He was 6, and my mom took me down, and I just never stopped. I’ve been there since I was 5 years old.”
Waller, 31, said his involvement in the club, which provides recreational sports, tutoring, summer camps, mentoring and other services to young people, helped him succeed in school, attend college at Virginia State University and become a productive adult.
So it seemed only natural that he give back to the organization in whatever way he could.
“I started as a summer camp counselor and to get some extra hours [then-branch director] Jim Almond was al- lowing me to clean the building,” Waller said. “Now, I don’t have a problem cleaning toilets — I was just an eager kid who wanted to get paid.”
As branch manager, Waller handles most of the day-to-day operations of the local Boys and Girls Club, located at 401 N. Payne St. He manages the building itself, its staff and also does budgeting and public outreach.
Waller said as a child with a single working mother, the club helped to provide him with father figures and mentors and it kept him active and engaged through sports, particularly basketball.
“Sports were real heavy in my background at the club,” he said. “Our basketball team went two years undefeated in the rec league, and it just continued on from there. It helped me with staying off the streets and staying focused. It helped me go to college, since I had no experience on how to fill out a FAFSA or do college education.”
But it wasn’t just the structured programs that made an impact, Waller said.
“Just with the club being open — I didn’t have cable — I could go and watch Monday Night Raw,” he said. “That was big for me, man. I just loved everything, from the college visit trips out of town — we took a trip to Atlanta, and I had never been outside of Virginia before.”
Before being promoted up the ladder — when Waller was still serving as a camp counselor and de facto janitor — he worked a second job at night so he could do what he was passionate about while keeping up with his friends.
“I worked from 10 to 6 and then would do another hour to clean the club,” he said. “Then I would go home, sleep and then go to my overnight job from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I had a mentality just to work. I like to have money but I knew some of my friends were getting fast money, so to keep up with them, I had to work more hours.
“It was stressful, and it was hard work, but I learned that at an early age. There were days I didn’t want to go, but it paid off, and now I look back at the money I saved and the grind I put in. I tell kids about that now.”
He describes Almond, now acting CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, as his biggest mentor, albeit one he hopes to upstage.
“I want to take everything to another level,” Waller said. “I see myself as in competition with my old mentor, Jim Almond. I want to do everything better than what he did. I want people to remember me 30 years from now. I want people to remember, ‘when Mr. Alston helped me get into school, talk to girls or introduced me to John Wall.’
“It’s not about the money for me. It’s about those stories.”